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BNSF Railway wants to stop aquifer payments to Idaho

The BNSF Railway Co. wants to end an agreement to pay about $100,000 a year to help protect the water supply under its refueling depot in Hauser, Idaho.

The money is funneled through the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, where it helps teach school kids about the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which provides drinking water to about 50in the Spokane region.

The money also pays for inspections of BNSF’s diesel refueling depot in Hauser and funds work with 500,000 people other agencies aimed at keeping the aquifer free of contaminants.

The payments date to the 2004 opening of the depot, where up to 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel is pumped into each locomotive that moves goods between Northwest ports and markets in the Midwest and East. BNSF wants the payments to stop after 2013.

The money is used for work that is mostly unrelated to the depot and its operations, wrote Janet Robnett, BNSF’s attorney, in a letter to the Kootenai County board of commissioners.

The dispute is part of a lawsuit BNSF filed against Kootenai County in October regarding what regulations the county can impose on the depot.The railway contends operations at the depot are governed by federal transportation laws, and that the county can’t impose its own rules.

County commissioners want BNSF to make the payments as long as the depot remains in operation. The $100,000 pays for the equivalent of one DEQ staff position, plus benefits, travel, supplies and equipment.

“There’s the possibility of great risk to the aquifer,” said Todd Tondee, a Kootenai County commissioner. “We think (BNSF) should be willing to pay.”

BNSF and Kootenai County negotiated the original payments as part of a conditional use permit for the depot, which said the payments would continue through 2013 but could be extended.

The original intent was for BNSF to fund a DEQ staff position devoted to depot inspections, said Dan Redline, the agency’s regional administrator in Coeur d’Alene. But there was not enough inspection work, so other duties were added, he said. DEQ hasn’t taken a position on whether the funding should continue beyond 2013, Redline said.

The railroad has contended the depot has been problem-free since 2005.

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